Discovering Asthma in Your Child
What It Is and What To Do!
There are any number of good medical sites on the web that can give you the details of what asthma is and what the symptoms are. Over 22 million Americans alone suffer from asthma and the cases of childhood asthma are on the rise. Now, this rise may be due in part to the fact that doctors and parents are on the look out for asthma now as they never have been before. Another part of it most likely has to do with the changing environment. Be that as it may, here's a few things I've learned for personal experience as a life-long asthmatic who was not diagnosed with the condition until his thirties that you need to know. Here's the medical basics: asthma is a condition that impacts upon the bronchial passages leading to the lungs, with become inflamed and constricted, making it difficult to breath. Symptoms of asthma include coughing frequently (sometimes at night), wheezing, frequent runny noses, tightness in the chest, and rising anger before an asthma attack. These are not the most helpful indicators if your child does not have a really serious, life threatening case of asthma as they are so general and can seem to be so many other conditions.
I have exercise and allergy related asthma and I can give you a few additional clues to watch for. Do you have a child who has an aversion to running? Perhaps your child rides a bike, plays outdoor games, and seems to have no trouble running around like a mad person while playing with friends, but just hates distance running. Perhaps your child is gasping for breath a quarter mile into a mile run. There's a good clue your child may have exercise related asthma. This form is sneaky. It doesn't appear in short bursts of exercise but only in prolonged endeavors lasting many minutes. Running sprints won't bring it on unless the sprints are repeated over fifteen minutes or so. However, a mile run will bring on asthma for sure. The sufferer soon falls behind the rest of the runners, unable to catch his or her breath. They will tell you if asked that their legs never got tired but that their chest felt very tight and they couldn't catch their breath. The child's response will be, "I hate to run, I'm no good at it." Not true, your bronchial tubes are no good at it, the rest of you runs just fine. I experienced this condition, even though I rode a bike everywhere and to my astonishment in college lifted an entire weight rack weighing 750 lbs with my legs, even though I felt myself not to be athletic because I couldn't run.
Sensitivity to smoke, air pollution, car and truck fumes, and diesel fumes particularly provide an indicator your child may have asthma. If you are walking down the street together and you're fine but your child starts to cough or wheeze or is generally uncomfortable, this may be asthma. Asthmatics are far more sensitive to such irritants than you are. I was preaching in a church in coal country one Sunday, standing in for the regular pastor while he was on vacation, and suddenly my chest started to tighten and it felt like my lungs were filling with sludge and starting to smolder from within. I stepped out, took a puff from my emergency inhaler, and went back in and conducted the service without letting on to how uncomfortable I was. No one else seemed to be in distress. It turns out asthmatics are 1,000 to 8,000 times more sensitive to coal fumes than other people. It was three days before my lungs felt clean again (don't talk to me about clean coal technology until you're ready to provide technology clean enough that my 8,000 times more sensitive bronchial tubes will not be impacted by your coal burning).
Either of the above mentioned symptoms are easier to catch than the generic asthma conditions generally listed. It is important to catch this condition early, not only for the sake of your child's health, but also for the sake of your child's self image. That may not seem like much, but makes a huge difference. I'm not seeking pity here and don't want it, thank you very much, but my situation may show you why this is important. I was not diagnosed as a child, probably because they didn't know as much about childhood asthma in the 1960s and 1970s, combined with the fact that mine was performance related and when I wasn't involved in distance runs I appeared to be fine. Still, since I couldn't run distances or be involved in endurance sports such as soccer or football or track, I assumed I wasn't good at any sports. This makes a kid feel downright inadequate and isolated. I turned inward, becoming shy and stuck with my books and quiet pursuits as a result. This was not necessary and writing myself off was wrong but it is what a kid is likely to do.
If you discover your child has asthma, you need to tell your child in no uncertain terms that it is not their fault (nor is it yours parents, asthma happens and that's that) and that it does not mean they are not good at sports or inadequate in any way. Their bronchial tubes aren't good at endurance sports, but there are many alternatives and you can help by introducing your child to them. Your asthmatic child under medication can be involved in a variety of sports such as fencing, weight lifting, field sports such as javelin or shot put, golf (is your kid the next Tiger Woods?), bicycling (yes cycling is a sport)...but not long distance endurance cycling like the 104 mile Blood, Sweat, and Gears contest in the North Carolina mountains, baseball, volley ball, and many others. Don't allow your child to write him- or herself off.
You can take a variety of proactive steps to help your asthmatic child once the condition is discovered. HEPA filters in the house will help. If you have a limited budget (and who doesn't these days) then such a filter in the bedroom at night running constantly will be a big help. Home air conditioning is very beneficial on high pollution days in the muggy summer weather. If you can't air condition the whole house, a window unit in the child's bedroom is very important. Keep the house clean. Some asthma is irritated by allergens. Make sure your child sees the doctor regularly to monitor the asthmatic condition. Mine is very much under control but I still have only half the air capacity of someone my age who does not have asthma and so regular check ups are important to make sure nothing has changed for the worse. When driving, roll up the windows and turn on the AC when in heavy traffic or behind fumy diesel trucks. If you smoke, stop! If you can't stop for yourself, stop for your child. He or she needs this as smoking triggers asthma attacks. Remember my sensitivity to coal fumes? The same applies to cigarette or cigar smoke. It may not effect you now, but I guarantee it affects the asthmatic seriously.
Finally, become demanding with your congresspeople and senators over the issue of environmental clean up and clean air legislation. The asthmatic you love is the canary in the coal mine. He or she will sicken far sooner than you will if the air quality worsens. Frankly, as an asthmatic, I really don't care much for the economic arguments against proactive environmental clean up. I'll speak for myself only here and not presume to speak for 22 million of us, but frankly having lots of money to spend on the next gadget or gizmo to keep this bloated economy running means nothing to me if I'm dead. I want to live a long time, and be healthy, and I won't if we keep on polluting the atmosphere and changing the environment. Neither will your asthmatic child!
Good luck to you and the asthmatic you love. The condition may be life-long, but with proper care it can be a long and happy life.
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